Personal Branding Across Cultures Blogathon – Day 15 / Megan Fitzgerald
How a person builds and communicates their personal brand should be in part dictated by the cultural context in which they are living and working.
Having spent seven years living in Italy and being its first certified personal branding strategist back in 2006, I’d like to share with you my insights into how to build a personal brand to support your career goals there.
La Bella Figura
The first thing to remember is that appearances are very important. It is what Italians call ‘la bella figura’. Carrying and presenting yourself in an elegant and professional manner is of the utmost importance. The care you take in presenting yourself reflects the care you would take in doing good work and demonstrates you can handle yourself in social situations.
Paying attention to your appearance means both dressing in fashionable clothes and being aware of and respecting cultural customs and norms. To dress inappropriately or make social gaffes that indicate you do not understand Italian culture would be what the Italians call ‘la brutta figura’. Such actions would likely lead to loss of respect from your clients or colleagues.
Another thing to be aware of is that verbal communication is preferable to written communication in many situations so the way you express yourself is important in being received well. When at a loss for conversation, you can always talk about how beautiful Italy is or how amazing their cuisine is as most Italians are incredibly proud of their country – particularly their food.
That said, non verbal communication in Italy can also be an art. Some suggest that there are so many hand gestures one can use to express themselves in Italy that you can have an entire conversation without saying a word. If you choose to use hand gestures in conversation – be sure you know what you are ‘saying’ before you ‘say it’!
The Company You Keep
And lastly, although one’s skills and experience do play a part, ‘credibility’ is usually established by the company you keep and your relationships to well-respected companies, institutions and groups. Most people prefer meeting people through an introduction, so your network is extremely important.
When people do not meet through an introduction, if a person has gone to a top university or worked for a well-known company, those credentials can help to build rapport. So when you are still in the early stages of building your network in Italy, you should also be looking at how to associate yourself as many well-respected groups and institutions as possible.
But at the end of the day, introductions and developing the right relationships are the best way to establish trust and credibility that are essential to building a strong personal brand in Italy.
Barriers to Brand Building Online
Although personal branding as a concept is still a relatively new to Italy, there are several barriers that exist that may prevent people from embracing the idea of building their brand online.
According to a World Bank report, only 57% of Italians are internet users. This, coupled with the emphasis on verbal communication and personal relationships, is likely why Italians tend not focus as heavily as other cultures on developing their online identity and online network in order to build their personal brand or accelerate their careers. Since for Italians time is actually for spending with others, many would much prefer engaging with people rather than a computer.
Although technology does not play a primary role in building professional relationships and expressing one’s personal brand in Italy currently, that may be changing. Activity on several online networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook in Italy is increasing. A third of Italy is now on Facebook. Internet usage is also on the rise – albeit slowly. (There is a ‘Fibre for Italy’ project aimed at reaching 20 million people with fiber optic cable in Italy’s 15 largest cities by 2015 and Telecom Italia plans to connect 138 cities by 2018 to the internet.)
Another item worth noting is that Italians are avid users of mobile phones, with per capita mobile phone users at 158 per 100 (meaning it is common for people to have more than one mobile phone). As more online engagement and networking is happening on mobile phones, this will likely contribute to an increase in the role of online visibility and networking in building one’s personal brand.
What will the Future Hold?
For now, career prospects and personal brand building in Italy is most often driven by the culture of developing strong personal relationships ‘offline’ and a history of gerontocracy. As the very large older population passes and younger generations who are more digitally savvy mature, it will be interesting to see how the role technology will change these cultural norms over time.